Thank you very much for having me today. I'm certainly very honoured and humbled to be here.
I've been asked to share my story of entrepreneurship and leadership from my perspective as a rural Nova Scotian. Although I was asked to share the challenges of being an entrepreneur and a community leader as a rural Nova Scotian, to add a little colour for you I could add stories such as changing into my dress in the back of a minivan following a full day—I see some nodding around the table—and rolling in from board meetings to attend an awards gala for the inaugural Women in Business Award that I received for perceived work/life balance. Again, I remember rushing out of a provincial board meeting I was chairing as my phone was ringing off the hook, my mom spidey-senses going off and thinking I'd better answer this to learn that there was a rather significant issue at school and, luckily, my husband was able to deal with it.
I might also talk about the challenges of balancing a growing and innovative business in a rural community, where you need to grow your brand through relationship-building and networking, stepping up and saying, yes, when those leadership opportunities come along, and learning about conflicts of interest in the most interesting way. I could also talk about the challenges of finding financial support to go back to school, to build my own capacity for community development and women's leadership. But I digress....
Through my story, I aim to portray the strengths and the resilience, as well as the realities, of rural women who are starting to grow businesses and social organizations in rural Canada. I see entrepreneurship as a way to connect to a professional life and balancing a home life, as well as a way to address social challenges.
In the first decade of my career I worked as a professional planner in two Atlantic Canadian cities while my husband was in medical school. I often had side consulting gigs to pay the bills, and we had two small kids. Life was busy. In the summer of 2009, I decided to retire. I told my husband that I was retiring—he was working, and we had our third son—and I left my job as a community health planner in my rural community. I was seeing the coming health cuts and I was only recently in a job, and so would probably also be the first to be out. So I took and rode this sea of change that was happening.
I stayed at home and I did the things that many rural Canadian women do. I volunteered. I started a library program. I coached. I was at home with the kids, and I was in a very privileged position to be able to do so. I think that's really important to state. But at that time, as my youngest was becoming more independent and I was missing that professional capacity of my work, I decided to go back. Urban planning jobs were not really accessible in my community and community health planning jobs were long gone with the health sector cuts.
At that time, I began a consulting practice, and it started small. I thought I would take two or three contracts a year, that I could do that while Charlie was napping on the couch and that we'd all be fine. However, it quickly grew. There was a rather big need in the community for community development, community engagement, and working with non-profit organizations in the community health sector. I was able to access child care at the local YMCA, and my kids could access YMCA care after school, but it cost almost 40% of my income from the business at the time. For some reason, women always think that child care should come from their side of the pay in the family.
Through all this growth of my business, I received incredible emotional support. There were lots of tears and stress that came with running a business, and financial support from my husband. As the business grew and more contracts came in, I reinvested what I could and began bringing on a group of associates, who just happened to be some other incredibly gifted women in my local rural community.
I joined the chamber of commerce, I connected with other business owners, and I attended some sessions at the Centre for Women in Business at Mount St. Vincent, but they did not have the capacity to provide those services to rural communities. When you live two or three hours from the local city, it's quite an investment to take a full day for a one-hour seminar.
I strengthened relationships locally and I noticed that a number of local organizations for women entrepreneurs were starting to emerge in the community, and they are still growing. In 2014, in partnership with the Nova Scotia Community College, businesses, and the chamber, four local women and I began a community-based participatory leadership platform called Pictou County 2020. We began by hosting community conversations about the welfare and well-being of our local community. We were astounded when over 200 people came out to participate. Together they envisioned a community that was healthy, united, thriving, and bold and that embraced change through leadership, collaboration, mentorship, and entrepreneurship.
Our 2020 team of experienced and dedicated facilitators continues this work, and in 2017 we hosted another session where more than 30 local organizations and businesses came forward to talk about their stories of success and positivity. We didn't anticipate that almost all of the presenters would be women, who were coming forward with new organizations to service the local community and new businesses with a social purpose. We're starting to see an emergence of social innovation and entrepreneurship in the local community.
At the time I also decided to start my master's in adult education at St. FX University and went through another shift. I currently find myself the executive lead for the centre for employment innovation at St. FX University. We are really inspired by the principles of the Antigonish movement and the work of Reverend Moses Coady. The extension department believes in empowering communities and individuals to provide a full and abundant life for all.
The centre for employment innovation aims to facilitate a resilient, effective, and skilled workforce for Nova Scotia through research, community engagement, collaboration, leadership, and capacity building.
My journey is really about creating a full and abundant life for me, my family, and my community. What I challenge you to consider, through a rural lens, is how we can create accessible and equitable access to child care, transportation, and other services that support women as they engage in entrepreneurship and meaningful work. How do we support sectors like health and the community that primarily engage women in their workforces? How can we engage women in meaningful dialogue about the future they envision for themselves and their families? How do we celebrate the strength and resilience of women in Canada?